Campus Reform | While universities nationwide seek to erase history, Rutgers is taking a different approach

While universities nationwide seek to erase history, Rutgers is taking a different approach

Rutgers University is installing “historical markers” near monuments and buildings on campus with connections to slavery.

Instead of tearing down or renaming the monuments, the university is seeking to open a conversation about the historical legacy of slavery.

Rather than renaming its buildings, Rutgers University in New Jersey is installing “historical markers” to monuments with connections to slavery.

The university will build historical markers “that tell the story of its early benefactors whose families made their fortunes through the slave economy,” it said.

“These markers are an invitation for us to talk about the complicated legacies of namesakes and the complicated ways in which blood money from slavery is woven into old institutions like Rutgers,” said Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway at a recent Board of Governors meeting.

History professor Deborah Gray White explained that the markers will exist as an “acknowledgment that African Americans not only contributed to the founding and the building of Rutgers but also a recognition that we have been here all along even though we have been shut out of classrooms.”

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As recommended by the school’s Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History, the plaques “will contribute to discussions confronting the past while recognizing steps to take to move forward.”

The university will install four markers across campus. One marker in front of Hardenbergh Hall will discuss the legacy of Jacob Rusten Hardenbergh, the founder and first president of Rutgers. Hardenbergh’s family enslaved abolitionist Sojourner Truth and her family.

Similar markers will explain the legacies behind the namesakes and builders of Frelinghuysen Hall, Wood Lawn Mansion, and Livingston Campus.

Logan Skopp, the president of Rutgers University’s Turning Point USA chapter, told Campus Reform that the markers are “a bit better than talking down the entire statue.” However, he suspects that “the plaques will lead people to focus on the bad aspects of what these people did.”

“Their influence is still important as they were New Jersey’s first governor and people that helped create our university,” explained Skopp. “As a society, we all already know that slavery was a despicable part of our history. From a psychological perspective, I think that these plaques will make people focus on negative aspects of our past and racial tension.”

“If you want to fix racial tension, you should find common ground between people now instead of continuing to bring up previous heinous acts that occurred,” he added.

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Campus Reform reached out to Rutgers for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft